In the latest Meetings Outlook survey, 28% of meeting professionals said they are making changes in how they run meetings in response to the recent terrorist incidents. “The vast majority of people are taking a very sober and thoughtful approach to ways to improve security without alarming the attendee,” says Bill Voegeli (MPI Georgia Chapter), president of Association Insights.
In addition, 48% of respondents said they expected the costs of meetings to rise, because of the need for greater security. Supplier costs are already ticking up, the research found. Some meeting professionals reported meetings were being cancelled, at a cost to both planners and suppliers.
Meeting professionals’ concerns about terrorism are contributing to an overall mood of caution in the industry that also extends to projections about budgets and business conditions.
Although security is on the minds of many meeting professionals, how their organizations react to the recent terrorist attacks is all over the map. The first step for many organizations, especially large ones, has been to more rigorously evaluate the threat level at their destinations. Both large companies and the meeting and event professionals who serve them are turning to security agencies. Some organizations are also re-evaluating corporate travel plans.
Some organizations have become cautious about trying new destinations and others are amping up already tight security, particularly at events where controversial topics might be discussed. Bob Walker (MPI Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter), SVP of client solutions at Freeman, states: “It’s not just having people at the registration desk but having a bit of heightened security on site. You have a larger security detail that is checking badges and making sure the people that are in various areas of a hotel or convention hall have the credentials to be there. Finally, other organizations are sticking with their existing security plans.
Despite the pall that terrorism has caused, the fundamentals of the meetings and events market remain strong, Meetings Outlook found. That is true in areas such as employment growth, inflation, declining inventories and more competition. Still, there has been a slow cooling of growth projections. Budgets are rising, but expenses are skyrocketing so fast that budgets can’t keep up, the research showed. Overall spending on meetings will increase by 1.6 percent, but prices are projected to increase by 4.1 percent overall. This has led to a 2.5 percent decline in buying power, on average.
Other meeting professionals are now taking a very careful approach to spending on meetings. Paula Klinger (MPI Carolinas Chapter) corporate meeting planner at CommScope has found that with the prices of both hotel accommodations and airfare rising, there is more cost-consciousness. If costs continue to rise, the firm might reduce the list of attendees for whom it is mandatory to attend the firm’s global operations meeting, she says.
For many meeting professionals, the challenge in coming months will be to balance concerns about lower spending power with the need to take advantage of current opportunities. It’s not an easy one to tackle, but clearly, it’s an increasingly important one to master.